Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Of Governments and Problems

One of the touchstones of conservative Republican dogma is summed up in the famous quote from Saint Ronald Reagan: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Although the full quote, heard in context, was a response to the poor economic conditions of the late 1970's and early 1980's, and Reagan's belief that misguided government policies were responsible for those conditions, only part of his comment is remembered and has been adopted as dogma by the Cut Government/Eliminate Regulations/Slash Taxes Right:

"government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

I think the recent Petulant Trump Shutdown™ of parts of the federal government showed pretty clearly that the government, for good or ill, is an essential part of our lives, and that recklessly closing it down causes vast damage to the nation. Consider that the preamble to the Constitution - the document piously invoked by elected officials who seldom seem to have actually read and comprehended it - states that the Constitution was "ordained and established" to

"...establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty..."

So, how well did the Petulant Trump Shutdown™ align with the intent of the Constitution? Let's see ...

1. "Establish Justice." Federal courts nearly ran out of money. Guards in dangerous federal prisons were forced to work without pay*.  

2. "Insure domestic Tranquility." There was no tranquility for the families of furloughed federal workers, federal workers forced to work without pay, federal contractors (who, unlike federal workers, are unlikely to be paid after the standoff), and millions of business owners whose livelihood depends upon the business provided by government workers.

3. "Provide for the common defence." TSA workers, responsible for securing our air travel against criminal and terroristic threats, were forced to work without pay. Members of the Coast Guard - the men and women who rescue those in danger at sea, and our first line of defense against drugs imported by sea - were forced to work without pay. Border Patrol agents - who defend the Trump Sacred Borders against vast, surging armies of illegal immigrants, drug smugglers, and vicious gangs that drag helpless, duct-taped women across the border and into sex slavery** - were forced to work without pay. FBI agents - who protect us from organized crime, espionage, and terrorism and who are unfairly and stupidly maligned and undercut at every opportunity by Trump and his loyalists and enablers, were forced to work without pay.

4. "Promote the general Welfare." It would be difficult to argue that the "general welfare" was promoted by the Petulant Trump Shutdown™ that cost the nation an estimated $11 billion - of which an estimated $3 billion is irretrievably lost. 

5. "Secure the Blessings of Liberty." I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anything secured by the Petulant Trump Shutdown™ ... except the reputation of an administration stacked with billionaires as being out of touch with the experiences and needs of average Americans.

If the Petulant Trump Shutdown™ proved anything, it proved that government is an essential part of modern America, and that it needs to work and work well. I don't like paying taxes any more than anyone else, but I appreciate that the taxes I pay ensure my air travel is safe, that my food and medicine are wholesome and safe, and that criminals are pursued, arrested, and punished***.

If, in mid-February, we endure a second Petulant Trump Shutdown™, the lesson will be that the problem is not the government, but a childish and incompetent president and his enablers who all need to be replaced by people willing to rise to the challenge of actually governing. One can only hope that Congress ... which has hitherto shown a complete lack of spine ... will rise to the occasion and do its Constitutionally-mandated job.

But I'm not holding my breath, and neither should you.

Have a good day. Expect better. More thoughts coming.


* "Forced to work without pay" is what we used to call "slavery."

** Just ask Trump. And consider where he may have gotten the story.

*** Unless, of course, they are wealthy and well-connected and able to hire the very best lawyers.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Thinking about the State of the Union

One of the subplots of the recent faceoff between the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States (who represent two Constitutionally defined, equal branches of the government) was the suggestion (later confirmed) that Donald Trump not present his 2019 State of the Union address on January 29th, as originally planned. Much ink has been spilled and many digital bits rearranged over this dispute, some of which actually made useful and valid points. Here's my take on the issue ...

Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution states that the President

"shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient"

It does not specify how the President will provide this information - in writing, as a formal speech to Congress, as a PowerPoint briefing, carved on stone tablets, or whatever. The first two Presidents delivered their reports in person in the form of short (by today's standards) speeches. Thomas Jefferson sent his report in the form of a letter to Congress, because he believed that an in-person speech focused too much attention and granted too much personal power to the President. This began a tradition that lasted until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who chose to deliver his report in person. Every President since Wilson has done the same.

Because the State of the Union address (or "SOTU" in government shorthand) has become less of a useful report on the state of affairs and more of a political media spectacle with each passing year, some observers have argued that the time may have come for a return to the Jeffersonian tradition of delivering the report in writing. I can see arguments both for and against such a change.

On the one hand, a formal, written report can contain much more detail, including appendices with background information and evidence, draft legislation, and so on. It can be read and digested with the benefit of sufficient time to consider the information, rather than being analyzed on the fly by on-air shouting heads. The focus would be on the content, rather than on the theatrics of the presentation. I believe this form of presentation would provide a much more useful and robust product to Congress.

But on the other hand, I believe it's important for Americans to see their President standing in front of Congress to make the case for his (or, eventually, her) policies. I love public speaking and enjoy listening to a good, well-constructed speech. Unfortunately, our current Chief Executive is incapable of delivering a coherent formal address without veering wildly off the rails, even if he had coherent policies and plans for which to make a case.

So I'm torn.

On balance, though, I think the better option would be to return to the practice of delivering the Constitutionally-mandated provision of information to Congress in writing. It would allow for a better and more comprehensive report while avoiding the useless public relations spectacle into which the modern State of the Union address has devolved. Particularly in the case of Donald Trump, who believes anecdotes and innuendo make a better case than facts and evidence, it could force a more realistic look at the actual state of the union and propose more appropriate legislative initiatives to improve it.

I think it's time to move away from the State of the Union Address and toward a more useful State of the Union Report. What's your opinion? Leave a comment.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Musical Sunday

This past Tuesday, January 22nd, we celebrated the birthday of singer Sam Cooke, whose song "(What a Wonderful World" is one of my favorites. I featured it last year at this time, but it's too good not to share again ...

Have a good day and remember - it is a wonderful world, no matter how much the Donald Trumps of the world would have you believe it's a downward-spiraling pit of horror. Enjoy life.

More thoughts coming.


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Cartoon Saturday

Welcome to the last Cartoon Saturday for January ...

In Washington, Republicans and Democrats prepared to continue peeing on each other's shoes for another three weeks after Donald Trump accepted reality and reopened the government, if only temporarily; the US government ordered non-emergency US diplomatic personnel out of Venezuela; a woman in Australia was bitten by a 5-foot carpet python that had found its way into her toilet; Trump family members and administration officials received a storm of criticism for their tone-deaf comments on the problems of ordinary Americans suffering because of the Trump Shutdown; and the Monroe Doctrine was on life support, if not clinically dead, as Russia warned the United States not to intervene in the deteriorating situation in its ally, Venezuela.

It's been a while since we've looked at cartoons about crash test dummies, but it seems appropriate at this moment in our history to dive into that collection again ...

I like a cartoon that manages to pillory not only crash test dummies, but lawyers, too ...

Sounds like Congress to me ...

When dummies date ...

They need good eyesight to be able to see the walls they're running into ...

Me, too ...

You had to see this one coming ...

Maybe Donald Trump will pick him up ...

Crash test dummies have conspiracy theories, too ...

Which one? ...

Teenage dummies ...

And that's our collection of cartoons about dummies for this week. At least we can laugh about these dummies, where we can't always laugh about the ones we elect.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when we revisit a great song by Sam Cooke on Musical Sunday. Be here.


Friday, January 25, 2019

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

Last selection for January ... get 'em while they're not so hot ...

I wonder if there's an eye exam required for purchase ...

Aw, who cares? ...

This one comes from my old friend Rob on his recent visit to Spain. The battered brains are actually fairly common in today's America ...

Better call bomb disposal ...

Um ...

Well, yes, this would be the Trumpian solution, too ...

They probably had diplomas and everything ...

Sauce for the gander ...

Truth in advertising ...

I think the copy editor needs some refreshers on product placement ...

And with that, another month of editorial and signage gems passes into history. But don't worry - more will be here for you in February ... assuming we all survive the rest of January.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... more thoughts then.


Monday, January 21, 2019

National No Name-Calling Week

I was checking my online database of daily/weekly/monthly observances this past weekend and discovered that - lo and behold! - today is the start of National No Name-Calling Week - a week organized by educators and students to end name-calling and bullying in schools.

No Name-Calling Week was started in 2004, inspired by James Howe’s novel The Misfits about students who, after experiencing name-calling and bullying, run for student council on a No Name-Calling platform. And it's appropriate (if unfortunate) that we should need a week dedicated to the eradication of childish name-calling and boorish, bullying behavior.

It's especially unfortunate that we need such a week because one of the worst offenders in the realm of childish name-calling happens to sit in the chair once occupied by the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. Yes, when the President of the United States stoops to snidely and childishly taunting "Cryin' Chuck," "Pocohontas," and "Crooked Hillary," something is badly amiss.

So, Dear Readers, why not send your tweets to @realDonaldTrump ... or even write him a letter or an e-mail ... and suggest that he grow up and set an example for the nation's children ... and adults ... by stopping his use of childish name-calling and bullying, if only for one week. Just tell him to be best.

Have a good day. Don't resort to name-calling. More thoughts coming.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Poetry Sunday

This past Wednesday we celebrated the birthday (in 1874) of Canadian poet Robert W. Service, who was known as "The Bard of the Yukon" for his stirring, lyrical poems of the northern wilderness and the people who lived there. One of my favorite Service poems is this one, which tells an eerie tall tale of Yukon adventure, and is one of my favorite poems to read aloud ...

The Cremation of Sam McGee
by Robert W. Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam 'round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he'd often say in his homely way that "he'd sooner live in hell."

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn't see;
It wasn't much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I'm asking that you won't refuse my last request."

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
"It's the curs├Ęd cold, and it's got right hold till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet 'tain't being dead—it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."

A pal's last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn't a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: "You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it's up to you to cremate those last remains."

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows— O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the "Alice May."
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry, "is my cre-ma-tor-eum."

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn't like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: "I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked"; ... then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm."

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.

Have a good day. Stay warm. More thoughts coming.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Cartoon Saturday

And you thought things couldn't get any worse ...

British lawmakers devastatingly rejected the Brexit plan put forward by Prime Minister Theresa May, but then kept her in office by rejecting a no-confidence vote called by the political opposition ... because who the hell wants her job?; the Trump Petulant Shutdown of the US government continued into its 28th day with no end in sight; former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen admitted paying the owner of a technology services company to help doctor results of an online poll to help Mr. Trump's presidential campaign; citing security concerns linked to the ongoing government shutdown, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to Donald Trump suggesting a postponement of the State of the Union address scheduled for January 29th, and in return, Trump withdrew military aircraft support for her planned trip to Afghanistan; and police in Phoenix, Arizona, are investigating the discovery of the remains of a newborn baby found in the trash can of a women's restroom.

In honor of two successive weekends with winter storms, how about a salute to snowmen. Okay, snowpeople ...

Busted! ...

Freudian drip? ...

CSI: Snowfall ...

Punk snowman ...

Whatever works ...

Making a ... clean breast of things ...

Shovel it off! Shovel it all off!! ...

Sauce for the gander ...

Just a hunch ...

Snowman, updated ...

Stay warm and enjoy your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when we go north in winter with Poetry Sunday. See you then.


Friday, January 18, 2019

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for January, 2019

Today is the 18th day of 2019, The Trump Petulant Government Shutdown of 2018/2019 is 27 days old, and it's time to name

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for January, 2019

I was sorely tempted to once again name Mitch McConnell as the dishonoree but, although (having been an awardee six times since 2012) he's close to receiving our second Lifetime Achievement Award (Donald Trump received the first), there are other deserving Ass Clowns who are doing their part to drive the nation to social, political, and economic ruin. And so it is that I have decided to bestow the Left-Cheek award for January to Trump Whisperer

This is the third award for Senator Graham (his first was in November of 2014, and the second was a joint Left-Cheek award in September of 2017). Senator Graham has become the most steadfast and stalwart defender of whatever Donald Trump says or does, regardless of how silly. He is one of the few people who might conceivably have the conservative Republican credentials to talk sense into Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, but he choses to stick with rearranging the deck chairs on the GOPs political Titanic, often in angrily histrionic terms.

And the most depressing part is that a few years ago, a gentleman came up to me on one of our cruise vacations asked me if I was Lindsey Graham. Sigh.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, the Left-Cheek Ass Clown for January, 2018, is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Well deserved, indeed.

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for a wintery Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

National Hat Day

I regularly visit an interesting website that lists all the days, weeks, and months which have received special designations. There are, of course, days, weeks, and months to honor or commemorate just about everything you can imagine (and a lot of things you probably couldn't), and it turns out that today - January 15th - has been designated as National Hat Day.

Hats aren't very much in fashion nowadays unless you are the Queen of England

or you need a silly Grandpa Hat to wear in the sun

or you need to wear one as part of a uniform

so I suspect that National Hat Day is an invention of the Milliners Guild or some other organization devoted to advancing the cause of decorative (and, doubtless, expensive) headwear.

But hats aren't just decorative ... they serve many other purposes, such as identification, protection, and messaging. In present-day America, for example, one commonly observes the "MAGA" hats worn by die-hard Trump supporters

and the ever-popular tinfoil hats ... also worn by many Trump supporters as well as by those on the far left of the political spectrum. These come in many shapes and sizes, from the simple

to the complex

and even the playful

Of course, there is also the special version made for the Trump supporter who needs protection from unwelcome ideas but is unwilling to give up the messaging value of his or her Trump-approved headgear.

So, Dear Readers, happy National Hat Day! Wear 'em if you got 'em!

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Musical Sunday

This past Tuesday, January 8th, we celebrated the birthday of The King - Elvis Presley. In honor of his big day, and of the National Security Agency, how about this classic Elvis tune ...

Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts coming.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Cartoon Saturday

Cartoon Saturday ... because you need something to take your mind off the news.

Donald Trump's petulant shutdown of the federal government became the longest in history as it entered its third week with more than 800,000 government workers and tens of thousands of other people that depend on government contracts put out of work; a 13-year-old girl who vanished in October after her parents were found dead in their northwestern Wisconsin home has been found alive; US forces began withdrawing from Syria; in Europe, heavy snow brought life to a halt in parts of Germany, Austria, Norway, and Sweden; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg missed oral arguments for several days as she recovered from cancer surgery, leading conservative activists to ramp up their list of new candidates acceptable to the right; and the White House has begun eyeing sources of funding for the Trump Border Wall if, as expected, Mr Trump declares a national emergency as a way to bypass Congressional and public opposition to the wall ... among the sources of money being considered is funding intended for disaster relief in Puerto Rico and Texas.

The behavior of our present administration suggests that a collection of cartoons about barbarians might be in order ...

Who knows what goes on at Mar-a-Lago? Besides golf ...

And so it begins ...

Financial concerns are always important ...

Nowadays the pillaging is done through banks and law firms ...

Cyberbarbarians on the march ...

A good question ...

Barbarians in the digital age ... "pillaging" is an introductory level law school course ...

Effective division of labor ...

Viking temps? ...

Looking on the positive side ...

There are barbarians at the gates, even on Cartoon Saturday ... better bar the doors.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts coming.